I wish I was a better writer, or at least had a more fanciful story to tell. My life is not one of extravagance or destitution, it lies in the ordinary – albeit privileged in the white/male/middle-class sense – and doesn’t have a large deviation. But there are still stories to be told, and struggles to be had; to compare myself against those two poles would nullify my experience and silence many people like me. So what the heck, why not spill my average, vanilla heart…
Step 1: Relapse
My mental health had a bit of a setback in recent months. Put plainly, I relapsed. It is not addiction or something I view as “serious”, but that comparative phrasing thrown out the window, my anxiety (and even depression) crept back up until I could no longer deny it. Hell, even those around me who care for me could see it and shared their concerns with me. I knew it was getting worse, but my ego and my inability to take a step back and see just how bad it had gotten prolonged the worsening panic attacks, as I firmly held strong against medication.
Not everything in my life was stressful. Sure, I had some transitioning in jobs happening (along with feeling inadequate at a new position), and I had concerns for family health, along with many other small or predictable things (read: “obsessive thinking” types of thoughts I’ve had for years). But I also had some wonderful events in my life – meeting a new partner, planning a baseball trip with my best friend, and landing a job in an industry I feel competent in – all very positive things compared to recent lows.
Step 2: Rebound
The panic attacks got to be too much. They affected my work, my relationships, and my piece of mind/physical health. I felt like I could keep going and had no other option than to admit “defeat” and reach back out for help. I hate swallowing my pride. I am an extremely stubborn individual, and rarely take any medication. Zoloft had worked well for me in the past, but I never wanted it to be a permanent solution, just an aid in the lowest of times. Problem was that I was quickly heading for another “lowest time”. With the prospect of being on a plane (an already anxiety-inducing event), I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get through it without help beforehand.
I needed to rebound and knew one way that had helped in the past. My ability to look within myself and try to clearly identify the issue told me one thing: this was another chemical imbalance in the brain. My mindfulness exercises and other mental tricks/practices were no longer able to keep this anxiety contained. And if it kept on going, the constant anxiety and physical strain would turn into depression (at least that’s what happens to me when it becomes so habitual and overbearing, I just want to give up).
Like I mentioned before, Zoloft was my option, a proven help in multiple trips down this mental health journey. Since I had pinpointed that it felt more like and imbalance than a weakening of the mental strength (not doing your mental exercises and mindfulness will cause a “weaker” state), I figured medication had a good chance. This was my chance to reset. So I finally went in towards the end of April and saw a doctor again.
The prescription was written.
Step 3: Retry
Not only was I trying my medication again, but I had flights to take. My happiness of a baseball trip had a dark cloud around it that was eating at my mental health: my fear of flying. I was determined to still follow through on my plans, but knew that it could only work with everyday medication and possibly additional situational meds for the flight itself. I was challenging myself while trying my best to pull myself out of a nosedive. This method probably isn’t advised, but this is one instance where my stubbornness actually helps. I was determined.
So I began the journey on the meds. The side effects were plenty and lasted a couple weeks, clearing only days before my trip. I was having panic attacks, but less frequently and (thankfully) less severe. But I still worried that my heightened anxiety of the flight itself could be a catastrophic trigger. I had Atavan in my back pocket for that. This situational and emergency medication was used once in the past for a flight and it knocked me into a sedated state. I remember things happening around me, but I was told that I looked incapacitated and asleep (I wasn’t).
So my mental exercises were being used daily, if not hourly, and I was trying my best to challenge myself with thoughts of airplanes. From reading news about them (an unfortunate accident which sucked a lady out and killed her), to learning about flight patterns and all those details, to just picturing myself in the plane and taking in those details. All of those things ended up helping in the long run. I’m sure this stress added to my panic attacks well before the flight, but…
I believe I was able to get through the flight with flying colors (pun not originally intended, but then noticed and kept in).
Step 4: Recharge
Now with one flight behind me, the medication starting to level out, and a dream baseball trip literally ahead of me, I was able to recharge. I successfully avoided an in-air panic attack, avoided using the Atavan, and avoided panicking during the trip about the future flights needed to complete the trip. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.
The trip was a blur and had its own stress. A lack of sleep due to wanting to “do it all” created less than ideal mental states, but even then I was able to avoid any troubling mental health episodes (a few light moments of rest and refocus were needed, but nothing major).
This story could have had numerous endings and even more paths. But the only way I “fail” to do the healthy/right thing is by not getting help. For me that was getting medication, but deeper than that it was reflecting and admitting there is a problem. I let things go too long, but rather than focusing on how I was failing, I chose to stop the cycle. Stopping the cycle is the only thing that matters. Strength isn’t determined by how quickly you can get help or how strong you stay, it’s about realizing when you are weak and allowing help into your life.
I’m beyond amazed at my adventures, made possible only through the help of my parents, family, friends, best friend (Jared), and partner (Chelsea)… and me. Don’t forget to thank yourself. It’s not egotistical, you can have little wins from time to time. A positive sense of self is a step in the right direction after enduring the anxiety/depression storm. In fact, it might just be the inspiration that helps you get through the next storm.
May is mental health awareness month. To learn more, please visit NAMI or any other numerous sites dedicated to mental health. And if you’ve been thinking of getting help or even just want to open up to someone close in your life to admit your struggles, today is a great day to start. You are not alone.